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In Defence of Lenin's Marxist Policy of a Two-Stage, Uninterrupted Revolution

By Doug Lorimer

Phil Hearse's polemic against my pamphlet proceeds from a fundamentally false assumption, i.e., that it "attempts [to give] a general strategic view" of revolution in "the semi-colonial and dependent semi-industrialised countries". He alleges that my pamphlet presents Lenin's policy of carrying out the proletarian revolution in semi-feudal Russia in two stages (a bourgeois democratic and then a socialist stage) "as a general schema for the 'Third World' today". Nowhere in the pamphlet do I make such a claim.

It's true that the basic conclusion I make is that the Leninist theory and policy of a two-stage, uninterrupted revolution is superior to Trotsky's permanent revolution theory as a guide to action in countries where Trotsky thought his theory had general applicability, i.e., as Trotsky put it in his 1928 pamphlet The Permanent Revolution, "countries with a belated bourgeois development" in which the peasantry constitutes the "majority of the population".[1] all semi-colonial countries today. Hearse, on the other hand, gives the impression, though he does not explicitly state this, that he thinks Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution does provide such a "general schema".

The aim of my pamphlet, contrary to Hearse's allegation, was not to set out a "general schema" for revolution in all semi-colonial countries today. It was, as I explicitly stated in the introduction, to discuss where and how Trotsky's theory differed from Lenin's policy for carrying out a socialist revolution in semi-feudal Russia. That's why I stated in the introduction: "I have limited the discussion of Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution to those aspects of his theory which differ from the theory and policy of Leninism" and that I would concentrate on "the innumerable distortions of Lenin's views on the question of the class dynamics of the Russian revolution made by … Trotsky himself".

Hearse criticises my pamphlet for not "attempting to reassess Lenin's and Trotsky's theories in the light of historical and contemporary experience". This criticism is misconceived for two reasons. The first is that I do attempt to assess "Lenin's and Trotsky's theories" in the light of historical experience the experience of the October Revolution (which was the crucial test of both theories, since both of them were formulated specifically as guides to action for the Russian working class). Secondly, before a scientific attempt can be made to reassess either of these theories in the light of contemporary experience, it is necessary that their actual content be understood. My pamphlet was a contribution to the latter task.

Unfortunately, Hearse's polemic against my pamphlet repeats every one of the distortions of Lenin's policy that Trotsky made, though often with his own particular twist. In responding to Hearse's criticisms, I am therefore forced to again take up the task of refuting these distortions.

 

Transformation of the democratic revolution into a socialist revolution

Before the October Revolution, neither Lenin nor Trotsky presented their views on the class dynamics of the Russian revolution, and what this meant for Marxist policy, as having applicability to any country other than Russia. It was only after October that they argued, as Lenin put it in his 1920 essay "Left-Wing" Communism an infantile disorder, that certain "features of our revolution have a significance that is not local, or peculiarly national, or Russian alone, but international".[2]

Thus Lenin, for example, in his November 1918 polemical work The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, made the point that "a general peasant revolution is still a bourgeois revolution, and that without a series of transitions, of transitional stages, it cannot be transformed into a socialist revolution in a backward country".[3]

Hearse clearly disagrees with this proposition, though he does not specifically criticise Lenin's November 1918 restatement of it, preferring instead to criticise a presentation of it made 13 years earlier in Lenin's July 1905 pamphlet Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution. The thrust of these passages is that the complete ("decisive") victory of the democratic revolution in Russia can be achieved only through replacement of the tsarist state with a revolutionary dictatorship of the workers and peasants a government that is based upon institutions that arise out of an armed insurrection of the workers and peasants and that uses the military force of the armed workers and peasants to suppress the counter-revolutionary resistance of the landlords, the capitalists and the commanding personnel of the tsarist army.

Lenin points out that the immediate task of this revolutionary worker-peasant state power will be to complete the democratic revolution by realising "the changes urgently and absolutely indispensable to the proletariat and the peasantry", i.e., to establish consistent and full democracy, to bring about a radical redistribution of landed property in favour of the peasantry and to lay the foundations for a thorough improvement in the working conditions of the workers and their standard of living.

The realisation of these changes, Lenin explains, will "not immediately overstep the bounds of bourgeois social and economic relationships", i.e., they will not immediately begin to replace capitalist commodity relations in the sphere of production with the centrally planned production and distribution of producer goods. Hence, their realisation will not immediately transform the revolution from a bourgeois revolution into a socialist revolution. That task will require a "series of intermediary stages of revolutionary development".[4]

According to Hearse, in Two Tactics Lenin argued that the workers and peasants should strive for "the establishment of a bourgeois republic by revolutionary means, against the resistance of the bourgeoisie itself". Furthermore:

 

Socialist perspectives are postponed until after "a whole series of transitional stages of revolutionary development" (and it is obvious that he did not mean by this the "few months" to which he referred in Economics and Politics in the Era of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat).

Hearse poses the question: "How can 'a few months', with Soviet power, a Bolshevik-led government and a regime of workers' control, be described as a 'stage' in any but the most doctrinaire accounts?" This question is rhetorically directed against the description that I gave in my pamphlet of the course of development of the proletarian revolution in Russia.

Basing myself on the assessment that Lenin gave to the Bolshevik Party's eighth congress in March 1919, I explained that the revolution had passed through two stages: a bourgeois democratic stage (from November 1917 until June-July 1918) followed by the beginning of the stage of socialist revolution (July to November 1918). Here is what Lenin stated in the "Report on Work in the Countryside" adopted by the Bolshevik Party's eighth congress:

 

In October 1917 we seized power together with the peasants as a whole. This was a bourgeois revolution, in as much as the class struggle in the rural districts had not yet developed. As I have said, the real proletarian revolution in the rural districts began only in the summer of 1918. Had we not succeeded in stirring up this revolution our work would have been incomplete. The first stage was the seizure of power in the cities and the establishment of the Soviet form of government. The second stage was one which is fundamental for all socialists and without which socialists are not socialists, namely, to single out the proletarian and semi-proletarian elements in the rural districts and to ally them to the proletariat in order to wage the struggle against the bourgeoisie in the countryside. This stage is also in the main completed.[5]

Hearse evidently regards Lenin's use of the word "stage" to describe the first period of the October Revolution the period in which the proletariat allied itself with the peasants in general to carry to completion the bourgeois democratic revolution as one of the "most doctrinaire accounts". Why? Is it because Lenin's description of the development of the October Revolution contradicts Hearse's view that "the working class, supported by the poor peasantry, seized power in a socialist revolution in October 1917, and first proceeded to solve the democratic tasks of the revolution, but combined this with tasks of the socialist revolution from the beginning" (my emphasis)?

To describe as a "stage" a period of development the "few months" in which the measures carried out by the Soviet power did not "overstep the bounds of bourgeois social and economic relationships", might call Hearse's view into question. It might even force him to acknowledge that "a general peasant revolution is still a bourgeois revolution, and that without a series of transitions, of transitional stages, it cannot be transformed into a socialist revolution in a backward country".

Recognising this did not mean, as Hearse alleges, that "socialist perspectives" in Russia were to be "postponed until after a 'whole series of transitional stages of revolutionary development'" had been carried out. Rather, it meant that "socialist perspectives" could be realised only through the carrying out of a series of transitional steps. This should hardly be a novel concept for Marxists. Isn't it exactly how Marx and Engels presented the strategic line of march of the proletarian revolution in our movement's first programmatic document, written more than 150 years ago? Here is what they wrote:

 

We have seen above, that the first step in the revolution by the working class, is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy.

The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class, and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.

Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionising the mode of production.[6]

Lenin's socialist perspective, i.e., his perspective for carrying out a socialist revolution in semi-feudal Russia, was nothing more than a specific application of this strategic line of march in a backward country in which the peasantry constituted the overwhelming majority of the population.

The first step of the proletarian revolution in Russia was to "raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class" by establishing consistent and full democracy, or, as Lenin put it in March 1919, "the seizure of power in the cities and the establishment of the Soviet form of government".

The Russian workers, however, could not do this without an alliance with the majority of the population the poor, or semi-proletarian, section of the peasantry. But the immediate aim of the poor peasants was not the "centralisation of all instruments of production in the hands … of the proletariat organised as the ruling class". Their immediate aim, which they shared with the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois elements of the peasantry (the rich and middle peasants), was to abolish the private, hereditary, ownership of land by the big landowners, by the semi-feudal nobility, and to convert farm land into a commodity.

The Bolsheviks therefore sought to combine the first step of the proletarian revolution (establishing and consolidating the proletariat's political supremacy over the capitalists) with a general peasant revolution. During this first period of development of the proletarian revolution in Russia, the revolution would therefore "not immediately overstep the bounds of bourgeois social and economic relationships", i.e., it would not yet be a socialist revolution in its social content.

To transform the democratic revolution in Russia into a socialist revolution, the proletariat would, in Lenin's view, have to use its political supremacy (once this was consolidated) to forge an alliance with the poor peasants to expropriate bourgeois property in the cities and villages. This transformation of the social content of the revolution could be effected only by means of a series of transitional measures, i.e., a series of measures "which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order", and which culminate in the centralisation of the decisive means of production in the hands of the proletarian state.

 

Bolshevik policy and Two Tactics

In his November 1918 pamphlet The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, Lenin explained that this Bolshevik policy can be found outlined in his July 1905 pamphlet Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution. Hearse, however, accuses Lenin of deceiving his readers. According to Hearse, in Two Tactics Lenin limited the Bolsheviks' aims in the democratic revolution to "the establishment of a bourgeois republic by revolutionary means" and postponed any perspective of a socialist revolution in Russia until after the "development of fully capitalist relations in agriculture, i.e., bourgeois farmers and agricultural proletarians".

Hearse cites a number of passages from Two Tactics as supposed evidence of his latter claim. One of these was directed against the Socialist Revolutionaries, who believed that a general peasant revolution that destroyed the semi-feudal landlord system would, in and of itself, destroy capitalism in Russia:

 

Marxists are absolutely convinced of the bourgeois character of the Russian revolution. What does this mean? It means that the democratic reforms in the political system, and the social and economic reforms that have become a necessity for Russia, do not in themselves imply the undermining of capitalism, the undermining of bourgeois rule; on the contrary, they will, for the first time, really clear the ground for a wide and rapid, European, and not Asiatic [i.e., retarded], development of capitalism; they will for the first time, make it possible for the bourgeoisie to rule as a class.[7]

Lenin's argument here is simply a restatement of an elementary precept of historical materialism and Marxist economic theory, i.e., that complete elimination of the remnants of feudalism in Russia (the destruction of the tsarist autocracy and the semi-feudal landlord system) would create the optimum economic conditions for the development of capitalism, especially in the countryside, where 80% of tsarist Russia's population lived.

Lenin went on to point out that a "bourgeois revolution is a revolution which does not depart from the framework of the bourgeois, i.e., capitalist, socio-economic system", that it "expresses the needs of capitalist development, and, far from destroying the foundations of capitalism, it effects the contrary it broadens and deepens them" because it destroys all the pre-capitalist survivals that impede the spontaneous development of capitalist commodity relations, i.e., a market economy.

But far from arguing that the working class should limit its struggle to what was compatible with the establishment of bourgeois rule, Lenin argued in Two Tactics that the workers should seek to carry through the struggle for democracy in precisely such a way as would maximise the prospects for creating a proletarian democracy and the overthrow of capitalism in Russia. He wrote:

 

The complete victory of the present revolution will mark the end of the democratic revolution and the beginning of a determined struggle for a socialist revolution. Satisfaction of the present-day demands of the peasantry, the utter rout of reaction and the achievement of a democratic republic will mark the utter limit of the revolutionism of the [peasant] bourgeoisie, and even that of the petty bourgeoisie, and the beginning of the proletariat's real struggle for socialism. The more complete the democratic revolution, the sooner, the more widespread, the cleaner, and the more determined will the development of this new struggle be. The slogan of a "democratic" dictatorship [of the workers and peasants DL] expresses the historically limited nature of the present [democratic] revolution and the necessity of a new struggle on the basis of the new order for the complete emancipation of the working class from all oppression and all exploitation. In other words, when the democratic bourgeoisie or petty bourgeoisie ascends another step, when not only the revolution but the complete victory of the revolution becomes an accomplished fact, we shall "change" (perhaps amid the horrified cries of new and future Martynovs) the slogan of the democratic dictatorship to the slogan of a socialist dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e., the full socialist revolution.[8]

After citing his supposed evidence from Two Tactics that Lenin's perspective was limited to completing the bourgeois revolution so as to enable the bourgeoisie to rule as a class, Hearse poses the following question to me: "Is this what happened in 1917? That the revolution for the first time made it possible for the bourgeoisie to rule as a class?" My answer to this question is very simple: while this was not the aim of Lenin's policy, it is what actually happened in 1917. Or does Hearse deny that the initial phase of the workers' and peasants' democratic revolution in Russia in 1917 the February Revolution enabled a transfer of state power from the semi-feudal autocracy to the political representatives of the big bourgeoisie, organised in the Provisional Government?

 

What is the socialist revolution?

According to Hearse, "From the beginning [of the October Revolution], according to Trotsky's conception, the working class held the power (which is, logically, the very definition of a socialist revolution, according to this conception)". However, he is unable to stick consistently to this conception. This is because he knows that the conception he has just attributed to Trotsky (the seizure of state power by the working class is "the very definition of a socialist revolution") is not the Marxist conception of the socialist revolution. As we have already seen, the socialist revolution in Marx's view is the centralisation of all instruments of production in the hands of the proletarian state.

Hearse later acknowledges that, for there to be a socialist revolution, there must be socialisation of the ownership of the means of production. However, once he makes this concession to the Marxist conception of the socialist revolution, he is driven by his need to defend permanent revolution against the dreaded "two-stage theory" to go the opposite extreme, i.e., to separate socialisation of the ownership of means of production from the necessary first step in the proletarian revolution the conquest of state power.

Under a section of his article subheaded "Lessons of Spain", he claims that in July 1936, in response to General Franco's pro-fascist revolt, the workers in Catalonia "socialised just about everything". Hearse argues: "Any two-stage theory indeed, any attempt to delay, prevent or obstruct spontaneous socialisation meant repressing the revolution, which is exactly what the Stalinists did".

Like most Trotskyists when arguing against the Leninist policy of a two-stage, uninterrupted revolution, Hearse implies that adherents of this policy will somehow inexorably be drawn to advocate the implementation of the neo-Menshevik class-collaborationist counterfeit of this policy put forward by the Stalinists in the late 1920s. Hence we are told by him:

 

Lorimer's theory cannot explain the blood of Spain. If national and democratic revolution has to be achieved first, before measures of socialisation; if combining socialist measures with national and democratic tasks simultaneously is a priori incorrect; then the actions of the working class in Barcelona were ultra-left, exactly as the Stalinists said.

Contrary to what Hearse implies here, I do not think these actions were "ultra-left". But nor do I agree with him when he claims they amounted to the "socialisation" of the ownership of the means of production.

For the working class in Catalonia in 1936-37 to have even begun the socialisation of the ownership of means of production, they would first have had to do what the Russian workers did on October 25 (November 7), 1917, i.e., raise themselves to the position of ruling class by effecting a revolutionary transfer of political power from the bourgeois republican government to a workers and peasants' government. As the US Trotskyist Felix Morrow observed in his November 1937 pamphlet Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain:

 

Under contemporary capitalism, finance capital dominates manufacturing and transportation. This law of economics was not abrogated because the workers had seized the factories and railroads. All that the workers had done in seizing these enterprises was to transform them into producers' co-operatives, still subject to the laws of capitalist economics. Before they could be freed from these laws, all industry and land, together with bank capital and gold and silver reserves, would have to become the property of a workers' state. But this required overthrowing the bourgeois state.[9]

Without the expropriation of factories, mines, banks, railways, etc., by a proletarian state power, the seizure of the factories by individual groups of workers amounted, not to socialisation, but rather, as Morrow put it, to "syndicalist capitalism" "a form of producers' co-operatives, in which the workers divided the profits" and in which "real planning was impossible".[10]

The identification of the factory takeovers in Catalonia as the "socialisation" of industry was how the anarchists conceived of the socialist revolution.

The spontaneous working-class revolt in Catalonia went down to defeat in large part because the workers' anarchist and POUMist leaders in practice rejected the Marxist perspective on how to achieve working-class power in favour of carrying out a Menshevik, i.e., class-collaborationist, policy in relation to the bourgeois republican government.

Hearse complains that in my pamphlet I make "just one reference to Spain". In fact, I did not make even one reference to Spain I cited a comment about Russia made by Trotsky in an article he wrote on Spain. Perhaps I should have commented on the Spanish Civil War. It might have spared us from being given a lecture by Hearse on the "Lessons of Spain" in which he attempts to teach us that the Marxist conception of the socialist revolution is identical with the anarchist conception!

Hearse's attempt to use the experience of the Spanish revolution to show that it "wrecks" my "'two-stage' schema" and demonstrates the superiority of Trotsky's permanent revolution theory, fails entirely. That's because he examined this experience with a false theoretical framework, the idea that the socialist revolution ("measures of socialisation") can be carried out simultaneously with the tasks of the democratic revolution.

In attempting to justify this conception, Hearse also claimed that "according to Trotsky's conception", the seizure of power by the working class is "logically, the very definition of a socialist revolution". Trotsky's article on Spain which I quoted from in my pamphlet shows that this was not Trotsky's conception of the socialist revolution. Two paragraphs below the one that I quoted, Trotsky wrote:

 

The fact is that the dictatorship of the proletariat does not at all coincide mechanically with the inception of the socialist revolution. The seizure of power by the working class occurs in definite national surroundings, in a definite period, for the solution of definite tasks. In backward nations, such immediate tasks have a democratic character: the national liberation from imperialist subjugation and the agrarian revolution, as in China; the agrarian revolution and the liberation of the oppressed nationalities as in Russia. We see the same thing at present in Spain, even though in a different combination. Lenin even said that the proletariat in Russia came to power in October 1917 primarily as an agent of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. The victorious proletariat began with the solution of the democratic tasks, and only gradually, by the logic of its rule, did it take up the socialist tasks … This is precisely what Lenin called the growing over of the democratic revolution into the socialist.[11]

 

'Logical contradiction' and Lenin's conception

Lenin presented a basically similar assessment of the October Revolution in his 1918 pamphlet The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, writing:

 

The Bolsheviks remained loyal to Marxism and never tried (in spite of Kautsky, who without a scrap of evidence, accuses us of doing so) to "skip" the bourgeois-democratic revolution. The Bolsheviks, first of all, helped the most radical, most revolutionary of the bourgeois-democratic ideologists of the peasants, those who stood closest to the proletariat, namely the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, to carry out what was in effect nationalisation of the land. On October 26, 1917, i.e., on the very first day of the proletarian, socialist revolution, private ownership of land was abolished in Russia.

This laid the foundation, the most perfect from the point of view of the development of capitalism (Kautsky cannot deny this without breaking with Marx), and at the same time created an agrarian system which is the most flexible from the point of view of the transition to socialism. From the bourgeois-democratic point of view, the revolutionary peasants in Russia could go no further: there can be nothing "more ideal" from this point of view, nothing "more radical" (from this same point of view) than nationalisation of the land and equal land tenure. It was the Bolsheviks, and only the Bolsheviks, who, thanks only to the victory of the proletarian revolution, helped the peasants to carry the bourgeois-democratic revolution really to its conclusion. And only in this way did they do the utmost to facilitate and accelerate the transition to the socialist revolution.[12]

In July 1905 in Two Tactics, Lenin argued that the workers and peasants' revolution in Russia would have a bourgeois character, i.e., far from "the undermining of capitalism", it would "for the first time, really clear the ground for a wide and rapid, European, and not Asiatic, development of capitalism".[13]

Writing in November 1918, a year after the coming to power of a workers and peasants' government in Russia, Lenin explained that the proletarian revolution created the foundation for the "most perfect" development of capitalism precisely because it helped the peasants "to carry the bourgeois-democratic revolution really to its conclusion" by nationalising the land and thus turning it into a commodity, i.e., making it available to be rented from the state. Clearly, Hearse did not read The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky before he dashed off his polemic. Otherwise, he might have recognised that there is an "identity to Lenin's positions over the years 1905-17".

What is the source of Hearse's inability to recognise that there wasn't a logical contradiction in the argument made by Lenin in Two Tactics that the coming to power of a worker-peasant alliance (led by the proletarian vanguard) would not immediately undermine capitalist socio-economic relations, but widen them? It is his failure to understand that it is "the alliance between the proletariat and the peasants in general that reveals the bourgeois character of the revolution", and therefore a "general peasant revolution is still a bourgeois revolution, and that without a series of transitions, of transitional stages, it cannot be transformed into a socialist revolution".

But, Hearse might respond, doesn't Lenin say in the passage quoted above, that October 26, 1917, was "the very first day of the proletarian, socialist revolution"? True enough, he does. But he also says that it was only thanks to the "victory of the proletarian revolution" that the Bolsheviks "did the utmost to facilitate and accelerate the transition to the socialist revolution". How can the victory of the proletarian, socialist revolution facilitate and accelerate a transition to the socialist revolution? Isn't there a logical contradiction here?

There undoubtedly is for those who can see nothing but the antithesis between bourgeois revolution and proletarian revolution and who interpret even this antithesis in an utterly lifeless way. In a semi-feudal country like Russia, as Lenin explained, the proletariat had to begin the socialist revolution by first carrying to completion the tasks of the uncompleted bourgeois-democratic revolution. Only by doing so could the proletariat create the socio-political conditions for rallying the majority of Russia's population the semi-proletarian section of the peasantry to support the implementation of socialist measures, i.e., the centralisation of all large-scale production in the hands of the proletariat organised as the ruling class.

 

The democratic dictatorship: bourgeois republic or special form of proletarian dictatorship?

In my pamphlet I argued that Lenin's formula of a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry expressed the idea of a special form of proletarian dictatorship, of proletarian state power. Hearse cites my argument, claiming that it is an attempt on my part to "guard" my "back" because I know "very well that the Bolsheviks routinely described their regime from the first day of the revolution as the 'dictatorship of the proletariat'". He adds: "But in accepting that it was, in essence, the dictatorship of the proletariat, Lorimer is despite himself forced to veer towards permanentist perspectives".

As supposed proof of this, Hearse cites the following passage (which I also cited in my pamphlet) from the 1929 article "What is the Permanent Revolution? Basic Postulates" that Trotsky appended to his 1928 book The Permanent Revolution:

 

No matter what the first episodic stages of the revolution might be in the individual countries, the realisation of the revolutionary alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry is conceivable only under the leadership of the proletarian vanguard … This in turn means that the victory of the democratic revolution is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat which bases itself upon the alliance with the peasantry and solves first of all the tasks of the democratic revolution.[14]

Hearse follows this quote with the observation, which I would not dispute, that "there is a difference in emphasis between this quote and what Doug Lorimer says. But the similarity of positions a worker-peasant alliance to create the proletarian dictatorship and solve the democratic tasks will be obvious to anyone but the most doctrinaire".

But then he makes the claim that what "is equally obvious is that neither of these two positions is anything like that defended by Lenin in 1905 or 1908". Really? What else does Lenin's formula of "a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry" mean other than the conquest of state power by the proletariat in alliance with the peasantry to solve first of all the tasks of the democratic revolution? Indeed, isn't that precisely how Trotsky in 1929 interpreted Lenin's formula? Immediately after he stated that "the victory of the democratic revolution is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat which bases itself upon the alliance with the peasantry and solves first of all the tasks of the democratic revolution", Trotsky made the following comment: "Assessed historically, the old slogan of Bolshevism "the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry" expressed precisely the above-characterised relationship of the proletariat, the peasantry and the liberal bourgeoisie. This has been confirmed by the experience of October."[15]

Hearse, however, asserts that for Lenin the democratic worker-peasant dictatorship signified a "bourgeois republic". The only evidence Hearse provides to support this assertion is that Lenin argued that the immediate task of this revolutionary state power would be to complete the bourgeois-democratic revolution, and therefore this state power would be, as Lenin explained in Two Tactics, "a democratic and not a socialist dictatorship".

Within the framework of Hearse's false conception of the proletarian dictatorship as mechanically coinciding with the socialist revolution, a revolutionary state power that does not immediately carry out socialist measures but, instead, completes the bourgeois-democratic revolution, must "logically" be a form of bourgeois state power. However, it is rather presumptuous of him to suppose, without any corroborating evidence, that Lenin shared this conception.

 

The Commune state and the democratic dictatorship

Hearse claims that it was in April 1917 that Lenin came over to the conception that the proletarian dictatorship mechanically coincides with the socialist revolution. According to Hearse, in April 1917 Lenin began to argue for "the Commune state (i.e., socialist revolution)". Hearse thus demonstrates that he shares the same misconception about Lenin's April Theses that Lev Kamenev did in April 1917, i.e., because Lenin described the soviets of workers' and soldiers' deputies as being political institutions of the same type as the 1871 Paris Commune and advocated the Bolsheviks propagandise for the replacement of the landlord-bourgeois Provisional Government with a Soviet government, Lenin advocated the transformation of the democratic revolution into a socialist revolution.

In opposition to Lenin, Kamenev argued that the bourgeois democratic revolution had not been completed and that the Bolsheviks should continue to advocate the creation of a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. Lenin replied that the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry had "already become a reality (in a certain form and to a certain extent)" because "this 'formula' envisages only a relation of classes, and not a concrete political institution implementing this relation, this co-operation" and the soviets of workers' and (peasant) soldiers' deputies were institutions embodying precisely this co-operation".[16]

In his "Letters on Tactics", Lenin replied directly to Kamenev's argument that adopting a perspective of "all power to the Soviets" meant setting a perspective of transforming the bourgeois democratic revolution into a socialist revolution as soon as the soviets took all power. Lenin wrote:

 

This is incorrect. I not only do not "build" on the "immediate transformation" of our revolution into a socialist one, but I actually warn against it, when in Thesis No. 8, I state: "It is not our immediate task to 'introduce' socialism …"

Is it not clear that no person who builds on the immediate transformation of our revolution into a socialist revolution could be opposed to the immediate task of introducing socialism? …

Comrade Kamenev has somewhat overreached himself in his eagerness, and has repeated the bourgeois prejudice about the Paris Commune having wanted to introduce socialism "immediately".[17]

Lenin went on to explain:

 

The real essence of the Commune is not where the bourgeois usually looks for it, but in the creation of a state of a special type. Such a state has already arisen in Russia, it is the Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies!

Comrade Kamenev has not pondered on the fact, the significance, of the existing Soviets, their identity, in point of type and socio-political character, with the commune state, and instead of studying the fact, he began to talk about something I was supposed to be "building" on for the "immediate" future. The result is, unfortunately, a repetition of the method used by many bourgeois: from the question as to what are Soviets, whether they are of a higher type than a parliamentary republic, whether they are more useful for the people, more democratic, more convenient for the struggle, for combating, for instance, the grain shortage, etc. from this real, urgent, vital issue, attention is diverted to the empty, would-be scientific, but actually hollow, professorially dead question of "building on an immediate transformation".

An idle question falsely presented. I "build" only on this, exclusively on this that the workers, soldiers and peasants will deal better than the officials, better than the police, with the difficult practical, problems of producing more grain, distributing it better and keeping the soldiers better supplied, etc., etc.

I am deeply convinced that the Soviets will make the independent activity of the masses a reality more quickly and effectively than will a parliamentary republic … They will more effectively, more practically and more correctly decide what steps can be taken towards socialism and how these steps should be taken. Control over a bank, the merging of all banks into one, is not yet socialism, but it is a step towards socialism. Today such steps are being taken in Germany by the Junkers and the bourgeoisie against the people. Tomorrow the Soviet will be able to take these steps more effectively for the benefit of the people if the whole state power is in its hands.

What compels such steps?

Famine. Economic disorganisation. Imminent collapse. The horrors of war. The horrors of the wounds inflicted on mankind by the war.[18]

Hearse evidently assumed that because, in his April Theses, Lenin outlined a perspective which aimed at the replacement of the landlord-capitalist Provisional Government with a Commune state, Lenin shared the bourgeois prejudice about the Paris Commune being a socialist dictatorship of the proletariat.

This prejudice is also widely held by many Marxists because Marx, in his 1871 pamphlet The Civil War In France, described the Paris Commune as "essentially a working-class government". By this, however, Marx meant (as he wrote in the same sentence) that it was "the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economic emancipation of labour",[19] not that it did or could do this. In a letter written in 1881, Marx observed that the Paris Commune "was merely the rising of a city under exceptional circumstances, the majority of the Commune was by no means socialist, nor could it be", adding: "With a modicum of common sense, however, it could have reached a compromise with [the bourgeois government in] Versailles useful to the mass of the people the only thing that was possible to reach at the time".[20]

Lenin's identification of the soviets in April 1917 as a Commune-type state was regarded by Kamenev as a rejection of the strategic perspective that the Bolsheviks had had since 1905 of fighting for a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. Hearse concurs with this view. However, Kamenev was wrong and so is Hearse. Lenin had never held the view that the socialist revolution mechanically coincides with the proletarian dictatorship and therefore had never argued that the Paris Commune was a socialist dictatorship.

But if it wasn't a socialist dictatorship, then what sort of proletarian dictatorship was it? Lenin had given a scientifically correct, i.e., Marxist, answer to this question many years before 1917. In July 1905 the Bolshevik paper Proletary, which Lenin edited, carried an article entitled "The Paris Commune and the Tasks of the Democratic Dictatorship". The article reviewed the experience of the Paris Commune. The last paragraph of the article was written by Lenin, and it drew the following conclusions:

 

This article teaches us, first and foremost, that for representatives of the socialist proletariat to take part in a revolutionary government with the petty bourgeoisie is fully permissible in principle, and, in certain conditions even obligatory. It shows us further that the real task the Commune had to perform was primarily the achievement of the democratic and not a socialist dictatorship, the implementation of our "minimum programme". Finally, the article reminds us that when we study the lessons of the Paris Commune, we should imitate not the mistakes it made (the failure to seize the Bank of France and to launch an offensive against Versailles, the lack of a clear programme, etc.), but its successful practical steps, which indicate the correct road. It is not the word "Commune" that we must adopt from the great fighters of 1871; we should not blindly repeat each of their slogans; what we must do is to single out those programmatic and practical slogans that bear upon the state of affairs in Russia and can be formulated in the words "revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry".[21]

This was written in the same month that Two Tactics appeared a pamphlet in which, according to Hearse, Lenin conceived of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry as a bourgeois republic!

In his April Theses Lenin simply applied his July 1905 arguments to the concrete socio-political conditions existing in Russia in 1917: to complete the democratic revolution and to combat economic disorganisation caused by World War I we need a Commune state; the soviets (which are institutions that embody the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry) represent a state of the same type; therefore, we should fight for a transfer of all power to the soviets by carrying out propaganda around the slogan "All Power to the Soviets!", instead of talking in general terms about the need for a "democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry".

Not very difficult to understand, is it? Or at least it's not if you examine Lenin's arguments through the framework of the Marxist theory of the state and the proletarian revolution, rather than through a fog of Trotskyist mystifications.

 

Phil Hearse's 'DSP theory'

While criticising my pamphlet for confining the discussion of Lenin's and Trotsky's views to the "experience of pre-revolutionary Russia", Hearse simultaneously accuses me of being guilty of "abstracting from the Russian experience and transferring it, without any mediation of any kind, to contemporary conditions". As I have explained above, this is an accusation without any foundation. It is, in fact, Hearse who mechanically transfers my assessment of "the Russian experience" to contemporary conditions and then labels this the "DSP theory" for all Third World countries today. Thus Hearse claims:

 

Since the DSP theory considers it necessary to forge an alliance on the basis of national and democratic demands with the rural and urban poor, it follows that it considers that these forces will be under the political leadership of non-proletarian forces, and specifically not under the revolutionary party.

Why does the second proposition "follow" from the first in the "DSP theory"? Because, "In Russia the Lorimer theory considers that the peasants were under the leadership of a peasant party, the Socialist Revolutionaries, and that the Bolshevik alliance with the Left SRs was key to cementing a worker-peasant alliance".

Nowhere in his polemic, however, does Hearse cite a single document by the DSP or by any DSP member that argues that because in Russia the Bolshevik alliance with the Left SRs was key to cementing a worker-peasant alliance, the DSP holds the view that the urban and rural poor in semi-colonial capitalist countries today cannot be brought under the leadership of a revolutionary Marxist party. Nor does he cite a single DSP document in which it is argued that an alliance between the workers and the petty-bourgeois and semi-proletarian sections of the urban and rural poor in any semi-colonial country can be forged on the basis simply of "national and democratic" demands. The "DSP theory" that Hearse criticises is entirely his own invention.

 

Notes

1. Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution & Results and Prospects, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1970, p. 276.

2. Lenin, ``Left-Wing'' Communism an infantile disorder, Resistance Books, Sydney, 1999, p. 27.

3. Lenin, Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1962-77, Vol. 28, p. 305.

4. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 9, pp. 56-57.

5. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 29, p. 203.

6. Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto and its relevance today, Resistance Books, Sydney, 1998, p. 62.

7. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 9, p. 48.

8. ibid., pp. 49-51.

9. Felix Morrow, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1974, pp. 101-02.

10. ibid., p. 117.

11. Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-39), Pathfinder Press, New York, 1973, p. 123.

12. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 28, pp. 313-4.

13. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 9, p. 48.

14. Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution & Results and Prospects, p. 277.

15. ibid., p. 277.

16. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 24, pp. 45-46.

17. ibid., pp. 52-53.

18. ibid., pp. 53-54.

19. Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977, Vol. 2, p. 223.

20. Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, p. 318.

21. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 9, p. 141. Emphasis added.

Doug Lorimer is a member of the Political Committee of the Democratic Socialist Party of Australia and the author of Trotsky's theory of Permanent Revolution: A Leninist critique.

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